Reforming the training of pastors (5)

Reforming the training of pastors (5)

(Fifth in a series. To be continued.)

Now let’s stop here and consider seminary’s cost.

Counting Kindergarten and taking into account that seminaries require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, the man beginning seminary has already completed at least seventeen years of formal education. Then, depending on the rigor of a seminary’s academic demands, he will study hermeneutics, church history, missions, exegesis, Christian education, doctrine, homiletics, Hebrew, psychology, Greek, and ethics for another three to five years before he begins to work as a pastor, whether that work is in an internship or on a large church staff or in a small church as a solo pastor.

At Gordon-Conwell, the average student took four years to complete his MDiv, so by the time he moved into his first working job as a pastor, he had spent twenty-one years of his life in formal education. But number of years consumed is only part of the cost; consider also the postponement of marriage and/or childbearing brought on by his wife’s work which supports him in seminary, as well as the money he’s spent purchasing his bachelors and masters degrees and the consequent debt he will have to service as he enters his first church. If he goes to a typical reformed college and seminary, he will have spent around $200,000 purchasing his degrees, and this doesn’t include his living costs during seminary. Nor have we tried to calculate the cost of moving across the country to this or that seminary, reestablishing oneself or one’s family in a new church community, starting over again getting to know one’s new friends, elders, pastors, and professors, setting up a new house or apartment, and doing all this knowing it will have to be done again in three to five years.

To sum up, under the legacy seminary plan for producing men ready to serve as pastors, those men will usually have paid some or all of the following costs for that preparation:

  • four years wife working while husband studies
  • between four and eight years of postponing marriage/having children
  • several moves across country, setting up new households
  • leaving behind friends and families
  • adjusting to new churches, small groups, friends, school, and profs
  • 21 years formal education
  • $200,000 to buy BA/BS and MDiv (not including seminary living expenses)

At a minimum, the man with a freshly minted MDiv ready to start working at a church is twenty-six years old. More likely he’s twenty-eight to thirty years old with a wife who’s very frustrated about how many years she’s had to postpone children and a home to pay his professors and keep the apartment rent paid and food on his table. The man himself has a head full of knowledge; and yes, a graduate degree. If he’s fortunate, he passed his ordination exams and received a call.

And only now that he and his wife have paid all the above and are carrying who knows how much debt in student loans do conservative reformed churches consider him ready to be ordained and start preaching, administering the sacraments, and caring for the sheep.

Make no mistake: this has been the norm for decades among those of us from the reformed tradition who believe our ministers should be educated in divinity. This is the cost our parents paid. This is the cost my brothers and I paid. This is the cost our fellow seminarians paid. This is the cost still today for the men pursuing an MDiv at a legacy reformed seminary.

Many have some help with the financial side that is given by their family or church, but the price remains the same and the man still leaves seminary with an almost-insignificant amount of personal preparation for pastoral ministry. Sure, he’s done his practicums and internship, just as the seminary curriculum requires, but such training almost never rises above pro forma exercises. Legacy seminaries are focussed on knowledge, not wisdom or character. Ask administrators and profs and they’ll freely admit this.

We acquire knowledge by studying; we acquire wisdom and character by practice. Therefore, when seminary students are focussed on study and knowledge, they do not build wisdom and they do not acquire the character necessary for being good shepherds. What is more, when they come out of seminary, too many have learned to value knowledge over character and wisdom. This is the reason, for instance, that the majority of my fellow students at Gordon-Conwell did not leave for pastoral ministry, but for additional academic training. They’d learned their lesson well from their professors, and no longer wanted to be pastors, but scholars.

It’s impossible for any prof to have more than a passing acquaintance with the twenty-five to a hundred students he has in each of his classes. Some students might have enough natural acuity in a particular discipline to attract the attention of the prof and spend a couple years serving as his academic assistant, but such men are rare and there’s little time for relationships, anyway. Studies never stop calling students to the library and their bedroom. Even the wife is put on hold, relationally, unless she likes listening to her husband read aloud to her from his Hebrew grammar or John Owen.

Living in a university community for close to thirty years now, our congregation has had a number of students come to believe they have the gifts and calling to pastoral ministry, and leave for one of the legacy reformed seminaries in Greenville, Orlando, St. Louis, Escondido, Boston, Philadelphia, Jackson, Louisville, etc. The pain of their moves and what we heard back from them about their lives in the new town, church, and school were often quite sobering. So sobering, in fact, that my brother David’s congregation (Christ the Word in Toledo, Ohio) as well as our congregation (Trinity Reformed Church in Bloomington, Indiana) both concluded it was time to use the natural gifts of our congregations to train up pastors back here at home where they and their wives were known and loved.

This is what is meant by a “pastors college”: it is an institution of pastoral training and education connected to local congregations where men are led, taught, and supervised by pastors and elders who are both shepherds and scholars.

Five centuries ago, Calvin turned his back on the prevailing method of education under the academic aristocracy of the Sorbonne and similar bastions of medieval scholasticism. Leaving it all behind, he and his fellow company of pastors in and around Geneva set up the Geneva Academy next door to St. Pierre Cathedral where Calvin himself ministered. It was there the future ministers of the Reformation were trained.

Three centuries ago, the Old School men of the synod of Philadelphia in Philadelphia and New Castle presbyteries sneered at such training given by William Tennent to men who lived next door to his manse in a rough shed erected to house them.

Mocking Tennent and his pastors college and students, these Old School men called it the “log college.” The name stuck, but in time those Log College graduates went on to found the institution today called “Princeton Seminary.”

This is not even to consider our Lord’s training of the Twelve, the Apostle Paul’s training of Timothy, Titus, and John Mark, or later institutions such as that founded by Spurgeon he called “The Pastors’ College.”

Christ the Word and Trinity Reformed now have a combined thirty years or so watching our pastors and elders train those men who aspire to the office of pastor (or in some circles “teaching elder”) here in our local congregations. My brother and I have been able to compare this training to the training we received ourselves at Gordon-Conwell in its heyday of academic rigor where men like Marcus Grodi, Rick Phillips, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Bob Godfrey, Scott Hahn, and Tim Keller also got their MDivs.

We received instruction of the highest academic pedigree legacy reformed seminaries then or today are capable of providing. Yet after many years of comparing the fruit of pastors colleges to the fruit of legacy reformed seminaries, our commitment to teaching, supporting, and commending pastors colleges continues and is growing.

The next post will begin to open up what pastors colleges do well, starting with their lower cost in years, moves, friendships, church commitments, and money.

(Fifth in a series. To be continued.)


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About The Author

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Tim has been senior pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Bloomington, Indiana since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is "Daddy Tried." Co-author of a book on homosexuality, "The Grace of Shame," his latest book on the Church is "Church Reformed."

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